Yes, Jesus Told Us to Pray in Secret. But He Also Prayed with His Friends.

Interceding in community is vital to the Christian life.

A young Chinese woman with a rare chronic disease spent most of her days in darkness in the early 20th century. As Christiana Tsai lay in her dark bedroom, month after month, then year after year, she learned to pray. The story of her prayer journey, Queen of the Dark Chamber, profoundly shaped my faith as a young adult. From Christiana I learned about perseverance and passion in prayer. I learned that prayer shows love and support for people when we cannot be with them. I saw prayer as a high and joyful calling.

Christiana Tsai inspired me deeply, but her model was limited to only one setting for prayer—in isolation, away from life’s distractions and responsibilities. Ben Patterson describes the emphasis we often place on this kind of prayer: “I was raised in a tradition that believed the man alone on his knees in the closet is the pinnacle of great prayer—one person one-on-one with the Almighty.”

A closet sounds like a strange place to pray unless one is familiar with Matthew 6:6. Jesus instructs his disciples to go to an inner room—literally a storage closet—shut the door, and “pray to your Father in private” (NLT).

Prayer alone is certainly one model of prayer in the Bible, but if we read the Bible only through the lens of praying in a closet, we miss much of the rich diversity possible in prayer.

Jesus’ words on prayer in Matthew 6, part of the Sermon on the Mount, are preceded by teaching about giving money and followed by instructions about fasting. For all three of these topics, Jesus mentions doing them “in secret” or “in private.” In our teaching and preaching about prayer, we have often elevated praying in secret above all other forms …

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